To Welcome a New Life

Just after midsummer, a new baby will be born.

Love penetrates the heart  before the eye discovers. Already,unknowing, I have selected  a fine, wide cloth, now waiting adornments. The tapestry as yet unknown.

Joy, anticipating him….

I cherish his velvet skin, delicious, pure for so brief a time. The tiny fist so tightly clenched inspires the effort of living.  His baby smell, effervesced, but still sublimely sweet, exhilarates.

Hair matted against his face, heat of day too much;  his sweat, as all his little life,  extreme.

Whispers of wind, (or call of birds? ) rattle giggles from him.  His busy, boundless journey remains singular, for a time.

He and I do not share blood, or cells or chromosomes.

But he is kindred, still.

Will the unspawned babes of my own young grow up with him,  grasping vibrant  mantle of childhood in accord?   Will attic rooms reverberate each season once again, snickers, shrieks recalling silly scenes of the holiday table? Will summer tents contain their giggles and their shouts when scary stories are unleashed in the darkened wood? Will they  join with him, the oldest one,  when they  denounce the demons of the life they find themselves confronting?

Or will this baby merely be, first, the infant,then, the child, and finally, the man  I love dearly from afar, whom I know not well enough to fill my life?

Time holds the answer and it will be one way or other other.

Joy.  Expectancy.

Now I apprehend his weight, his  warmth, the soft pattern of his breathing.

The reminder, once again, that we can be our best selves, sometimes, when we allow ourselves to simply live.

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Lost things..

Just last week I fretted for an hour about a favorite earring I had selected in the morning but discovered in the evening I had lost. Frustration bedeviled my moods. Until I walked into a park and saw a little girl. She was about two or three years old, sable hair, healthy, baby fine.  Her sound returned me to sweet hours in a cloistered tent upon a wooden beach.  Her laughter was the restless air and the cooling mountain stream along the rocky trail.  Her doting parents will never  find the words to show the love and joy the three of them were feeling in that accidentally observed moment, no matter if a telephone recorded every frame. The delicacy of loving bliss cannot be digitized, uploaded. It comes and goes as does the sunlight which etched softness on my heart.

Down the yellow brick road after almost forty years

cropped-6-13-14.jpgIt does not take much to make us realize what fools we are, but

the little it takes is long in coming.

Flannery O’Connor

Some  days, green times of the early seventies filter through my memory and energize me with a subtle hopefulness.  It was after all, and as they say, a time of innocence.

For over a hundred years our voices had been unwelcome, our presence banned.   None of our ideas were thought to ennoble this  pleasant urban space. Now, the breath of change, crisp and fresh,  gave life to new friendship all around the campus.  

Willowy, long-haired women in denim skirts which reached the ground or those  in peasant garb or  the ones with shaggy hair dressed in traditional worker blues picnicked in the sun.  Books buttressing shoulders or balancing long sheets of ink filled paper, they sidelined sandwiches half-eaten, collected  yogurt cups on the felt-like lawn.  Miniskirts and mustaches  passed, silent or sneering, either way unnoticed as the gathered women vowed to meet again for dinner on Wednesday night to share, then, a more personal conversation.

Elsewhere, alcohol and drugs were expanding minds.  We adventured  landscapes new and old,  together and separately.  And though it was not always sunshine, it remained mostly green, as we became the star-gazer, the professor, the business woman, the writer, the teacher, and the one who disappeared. Nor can we forget, the lawyer, the one who was made duty bound to make the change for our daughters and their daughters. We thought, then,”if women had the power…” We believed better worlds lay down the yellow brick road. 

Young women dreaming, working hard, studying, achieving, so serious. Perched precariously, preparing for the revolutionary times that were ours to make and to finesse with fine ideas and our own fire.

But it became a summer of sweet content, mainly.

We became a writer and a star-gazer turned corporate traveler, a professor and two lawyers. Life gave  husbands, wives, houses, children, joys, sorrows and to one an early death. With our sisters in the same professions or in book clubs, we met at power lunches, for power walks, power runs for sister candidates.  We got older, looking younger than previous generations, with  expensive lotions, female surgeons and women’s fitness routines. We styled our long hair, recycled peasant dresses, shrunk the denim.

As do our sisters of the same color, class and education, we  live in such comfort our mothers dreamt of for the important and the wealthy. Many  mothers, who showed us more than we will ever comprehend about life, age in “assisted living” placements.  Our generation prides itself on our deep, rich, barrier breaking sensibilities.

 Our urban campus today, a testament: “if you let them in they shall seize it all. ”  Women outnumber men by three to one.  The institute  of learning which channeled  leaders to high places in the city, now feeds nurses to the clinics. No less achieved. More?

But, do the women still picnic on the green, grasping a new world order?  What of women vanished into that summer of content?

Deep hued times and even a new century,  women rise with matured aspirations.  Institutions defiantly departed now greet the daughters nonchalantly. Doctors and lawyers and professors, women are not uncommon.  Justice, equality and power remain absent, but inky notes on picnic papers  are quaint  relics of past hopes and philosophies.

The real revolution was women talking.  Women reaching out to women and listening to what was said.  Wanting to know what the other thought, felt, experienced, understood, expressed.  Certainly, this was a way of understanding self, narcissistic.  But it was also, a way of reaching out into the world.  Power, connection, caring.  

As are  blithe gatherings on the green, the conviviality for a cause vanished quickly in the summer. “Sisterhood” soon  shrouded with a bruising cloth.

We used to say the political is personal, the personal, political.

Some us always listened to each other, perhaps because these were the only sisters whose care we had ever known.  In that circle of understanding, learning, justice, connection, but validation above all.  Naively seeing worldly circles equal, these women headed straight to painful falls.

Some of us, unaware we were so vulnerable.  That attachment to a person and a cause would fray so quickly.  “That isn’t the way I see it, I see it differently.  There are extremists on every issue, in every time.”

Some of us,so easily intoxicated, refusing treatment, in denial our whole life long.  For  some, the drug, meanness,  the silent, silken   sway, enchanting, to see the others fall down in the path.  The bitter taste, but men have drunk this brew through ages, so many blends. We drink with gusto.Our right.  Our turn.

We , the bully, the bureaucrat, the shooter,the soldier,now as well.

” and so it goes,” Secretary Hillary Clinton  may refuse to trash Sarah Palin  just because she is asked to do so. But, Terry Gross will  try to trash  Secretary  Clinton  merely to show she can.

The writer will trash the business executive,traveling around the world.  Not in the open, with the concrete thing, which can be seen and defended. But behind the curtains, to some of the others, some words spoken.  The meaning clear, or not so clear, for the executive must believe she herself  at fault.

The director of the community group will trash the  popular professor.  The professor, too kind, too supportive, or, perhaps, presents another defect.  Is she a stand out member, too assertive, too many ideas?  The emails and memos circulate. There are missed meetings, about which the professor was not called. She will later scramble to trace events, as if she is researching her dissertation: who has been told; what has been said; when did this start; what is happening? Falling into a well of darkness, unsure of the beginning or the end.

Trashing is crazymaking.  Conflict announced as conflict avoidance.  Sudden, the unanticipated cold steel apprehended in the midst of warm conversation.

Is this the old, old pattern from years ago, or a dynamic by a newer catchy name: the bully, the frenemy.

Is this just what we did in school when they said that boys were tough but girls were catty?

Oh, has the world changed at all in forty years?

On the TV after another school shooting, another protest.  This time the grandmothers are all marching with colored signs outside the school.  They blame the bullies, they blame the videos and they blame the gun laws.  As I watch them, I cannot hep wonder how they communicate.

The statehouse steps erupt in shouts and angry protest as the car speeds away.  The governor again declares not all citizens have equal rights. At the front, clenched fists are pounding the humid air, relentless.  To the right, a couple embraces, and the woman cries on her partner’s breast.

The small courtroom empties to the lot in the shopping center.  The  man-child marches to his car, the woman-child to hers.  Because he is a soldier, his drunken fists have been forgiven. What will those fists do in three months time in the desert sands of Afghanistan?

…it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place.  If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!

Lewis Carroll

Memories of an illness



The nerves will not be still.

No, not even in the deepest, fathomless hours of day, new born and dark, time of shape and shadow, no tale yet spawned to drain all thought and heart away.

Relentless burn, torpid crawl of scarlet. Piercing strike, fierce, spontaneous and fleeting. No coherent thought: thick, smoky fog of dread and hurt winnow reason from sensation in dark of night.

For the body remembers.

Transfuses a tincture of those former days and all their wretchedness from some secreted organ, imperceptibly, into the soul which shivers, then, in those dark hours of the day. The sun rises, but not so the heart of the one who can trace again the shape of dread, of solitude and torment marking each new day with shadow and proximate depletion.

In the days when nerves seared, the weight of air could bring a tear, and the weight of tears was too great for a hand to grasp.  She was then a stranger set to roam among the loving and the mean alike, each with ready access to bestow or steal some dignity to her.  She was too weak, or too much made a stranger, by so many gleaming strangers, to discern the loving from the mean, weakness from dignity.  In the nights when sorrow coursed through her, her dreams an endless tumbling through space, avoiding arrival,  the destination: despair.

There must have been the months of June, sunlit Sundays conferring perfumed air, lustrous landscapes, verdant fields and animals at play.  Wide beaches, no doubt, allowed buoyant children shrieking at cascading waves on newly sanded shores. Midnight rainstorms, spilling coolness from the sky after overheated hours, dramatic flashes of silver light and drum-roll far away. Surely, there were vital summer days and nights in that unfathomed time.  But the body has not etched a map. The mind  has  no recall.

And so the dread.

She feels herself  in time and space, with heart and mind and body, celebrating each new day, each June, each  sunrise, each rainstorm. The scarlet streak, angry, like a mark of shame, screams the termination of these things. Will she be the one who embraces June or the stranger dreading day.

The question comes.

Can she be a body burning in agony, in the gentle glory of the sun?

Sapped and spent beyond imagining.  Too rare a stranger, in an even stranger world.


20140531_074719Cornflowers sketched on porcelain  reminded me of you that humid afternoon. Anticipating our conversations, the stuffy Philadelphia store, smelling of mustard, onions and incense, too crowded with overpriced goods  from “exotic” lands where poor artists  turned their craft into a trade to feed the village from dollars spent by the good-hearted and  comfortable consumer who likely will never see the suffering, oppressed me .

And more so as I envisioned the early morning clouds rising, your sparkling lake, calls of water fowl, whispered conversation,  strong, strong coffee in that porcelain cup, and you, your reassuring friendship stronger still  than coffee and with no bitterness in all the many decades. Cornflowers,growing freely in your field, is so like your heart, brave, persistent, secluded; any reference to your body then blissfully unknown.

And after. I have never known a love to grow so strong in the face of certain ending.  I have never known a love to grow stronger still each day as I discover new places in my heart I kept you with me.  It is true, each day I find a piece of me which you alone allowed  power to discover; and finding that, each day I feel again how much it is that I have lost since the morning I was told that you had gone.

The cornflower sketched on porcelain greeted me the first time there, the late spring light and all the glories of that place now seeming somehow truly an afterthought, a place for children’s play apart from intent, adult attention, a place for animals to run, but not, any longer, no more, the unifier, the center stage.  Could it be that, without your love, the magnificence and splendour, the healing power we, each, could find in nature diminished itself in size and power.  No god were you.  One bears the stain of your stubbornness and another still grieves the consequences of your full autonomy.  Love that is rich  and generous is god-like enough for me. Life changing.

It was one of the few you loathed, but I suppose, it could have been another.  Carelessly, he cast the cornflowers and porcelain upon the stone. My eyelids burned.  My throat felt there was a fire.  My brain searched and searched for meaning that this late gift had been destroyed.

I sought solace again in nature.  Your empty chair in the shadow of the sun reproves me, and I walk on.  The waters greet me so much sooner than they would have done before, the wide grand yard seems eaten up by lake.  I close my eyes, steady breathing to the sound of small waves that are arriving. I again regard  clear, clear cold northern waters, and turn away. The house appears unchanged.

Inside, he sits venturing a life without you.  His face, bereft, conveys such sorrow, a fragment of what he feels. I love him more than ever. There was that time and now there is another.  We will hold this sorrow the remainder of our days.

There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have been long extinct.  There are people whose brilliance continues to light this world even though they are no longer among the living.  These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark.  They light the way for humankind.

Hannah Senesh